Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease characterized by symmetric arthritis most commonly affecting the wrist and hand (metacarpophalangeal and proximal interphalangeal joints). Morning stiffness is a key feature. Patients often experience pain, warmth, and swelling in the joints, usually a polyarticular arthritis. Hand or wrist films show erosions or bone loss. Late presentations include joint deformities. Patients with RA may also have atlantoaxial subluxation on the cervical spine. Subcutaneous rheumatoid nodules may be found on the extensor surfaces of the forearm and elbow or Achilles tendon. Bakers cysts located in the popliteal fossa may cause pain and swelling when they rupture. Enlargement of the spleen may be found in RA, and when associated with reduced white blood cells, the triad is known as Feltys syndrome. RA may also be associated with severe inflammation of blood vessels, presenting with pain, and palpable purpura and lost function of affected fingers. Rheumatoid factor is an autoimmune antibody positive in 70% to 80% of patients with RA.
Traditional treatments consist of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS). Side effects of NSAIDS are numerous and include skin rash, peptic ulcers/gastritis, liver damage, and kidney dysfunction. Typical DMARDS and their common side effects are Methotrexate (bone marrow toxicity and liver damage); Hydroxychloquine (retinopathy); Leflunomide (diarrhea and skin rash); Gold or Penicillamine (bone marrow toxicity, protein in urine, and skin rash) and Azathioprine (immunosuppression).
Acupuncture is an alternative treatment without side effects. For over two decades the W.H.O. has listed many problems including arthritis as amenable to acupuncture therapy. In 1996 the F.D.A. decreed the use of disposable acupuncture needles as an universal medical tool.
Most mainstream researchers believe that an acupuncture needle stimulates a sensory nerve and triggers electrical impulses to a spinal cord nerve, which signals 1. nerve cells to release endorphins, 2. the midbrain to discharge neurotransmitters (substances that block pain pathways) and 3. the pituitary gland to deliver endorphins and adrenocorticotropic hormone into the surrounding brain tissue and blood stream.
From the view of acupuncture, joint pain is caused by external cold, wind, heat and dampness, which lodges in the body and causes stagnation of energy and blood in the meridians. Different combinations of acupuncture points will be selected to treat different pain. Painful, sensitive points around the affected joint, muscle or tendon are usually chosen. Local and distal points along the course of the affected meridians are also chosen.
Acupuncture has helped many patients with RA. It is a natural way to improve your joint function and quality of life.